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Chapter 5
Processing, quality and trading standards

Processing and storage

Most of the birdseeds mentioned in this report can be cleaned by means of simple air/screen cleaners or by traditional methods such as hand threshing and winnowing. For most grains 98-99 percent purity is standard. In addition, the seeds should be shiny, look and smell fresh and have a high specific weight (as expressed in hectolitre weight or bushel weight).

It is essential that birdseed be free of dead or live insects, mould and noxious weed seeds. Another important consideration is the moisture content at which the seed is processed and stored. Mouldy seed or seed with a musty smell are not acceptable in the trade. The moisture content for most grains at processing should not exceed 8-12 percent. Niger seed that is exported to the United States of America must undergo heat treatment (60 °C) before shipping to kill any cuscuta seeds that might be present. Groundnut seeds for the United States of America and the European Union must be free of aflatoxin contamination for which there is zero tolerance.

An organisation in the United Kingdom, the Birdcare Standards Association (BSA), aims to formulate feed standards for wild bird feeding. The member companies of the BSA agree to have regular testing of their products by independent laboratories. Standards have been formulated for the level of aflatoxin contamination in groundnuts and the minimum and maximum content of certain small grains in bird food mixes. Complying companies may carry the BSA logo.

General guidelines for quality bird food

The following are general guidelines for quality bird food:


Packaging serves several purposes:

Different types of packaging material are required according to the desired purpose.

Packaging for transport and export

For transportation, the material should be lightweight but sturdy. The most usual packaging for seeds is jute or polypropylene bags of 25 kg. For export, the required type of packaging depends on the importer and the type of installation available.

Packaging for storage

During storage, the seed must be protected from the external elements such as water and sunlight, prevented from coming into contact with chemicals and pesticides, and protected from predators such as insects, birds and rodents. Seed can be stored in bulk in storage pits. Often storage is done in gunny bags, jute sacks or baskets. Sometimes pesticides are added to protect the seed from damage during storage. The most important factor is to ensure that the seed does not take up moisture during storage, because this leads to spoilage. Stored seed should be checked frequently for signs of spoilage such as insect attack, and its moisture content should also be monitored.

Packaging for retail

As the bird food business becomes more competitive, packaging assumes more importance. For wild bird feeding more use is made of transparent containers, which gives the consumer a clear indication of the ingredients used, the cleanliness and the quality of the mixture. The use of transparent containers makes it essential that packers have a consistent use of raw materials to ensure that the outside appearance of the mix does not change too much over the same season or from one season to the next.

Prepared bird food for companion birds is often sold in closed containers such as carton boxes and plastic tubs, which are attractively printed and may be labelled with the ingredients used. There is no legal requirement for labelling bird food unless specific nutritional claims are being made. Companion bird food is generally sold in small packages as customers usually only have one or two birds.

Non-GMO certification

Many packers in western Europe require a certificate that attests that the commodity is free from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). This especially applies to maize, soya and rapeseed, the only three crops that are currently commercialised with genetic modifications. Potential suppliers of commodity grains need to be aware of this requirement and check whether such certification can be done in the country of origin or whether testing is necessary in other countries. Certification of this type will add extra costs[22].

Traceability, HACCP and GMP

Recent food scares, outbreaks of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) and contaminated animal feed have to a certain extent also influenced the trade in small grains for bird food. The bigger brokers and bird food packers in western Europe have established systems of quality assurance and traceability that have organisational and financial consequences for suppliers of animal feed ingredients. This applies especially to those who handle commodities, not only for bird food but for animal feed in general.

A detailed discussion of management practices is outside the scope of this report, but it is useful to point out that would-be exporters may be required to have some form of certification, for example from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) or similar body. The demand for certification works down the supply chain. Processors and packers impose standards on shipping companies who, in turn, will require standards from exporters.

HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) systems are not yet mandatory for the grain trade, but many establishments have put these systems into place on a voluntary basis[23].

GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) relate to the conditions and procedures that have been proven to deliver consistent quality and safety based on long-term experience. This set of standards is generally implemented in the European food and pharmaceutical industry.

[22] A typical test will cost about US$110-150 per sample in the case of maize.
[23] HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) is a pro-active management system to assure food safety by identifying and preventing potential physical, chemical and biological hazards associated with a particular food production process or practice.

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